Julia Stephenson: The Green Goddess

When the cashpoint spews blood
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The Independent Online

Those who take part insist that the weapons on sale are primarily defensive and it is all strictly controlled, but this is not the case. This year an Israeli company, TAR Ideal, advertised leg-irons and electric-shock batons for sale in catalogues on its stall, and many of the weapons, for example cluster-bombs, kill far more civilians than military. It is outrageous that these bottom-feeders make huge fortunes, legally, on the back of the murder of millions of civilians and do so with the Government's blessing.

Nothing stops this murderous trade. Ironically the 2001 fair took place on 11 September 2001, the day of the attacks on New York and Washington, yet the arms fair was not halted.

Our politicians publicly denounce human rights abuses around the world, yet sell weapons which often end up killing British servicemen and civilians. This year, seven countries from the Foreign Office's list of the world's 20 top human-rights abusers were invited. These included Indonesia, where Amnesty International reports "extrajudicial executions, arbitrary detention, torture, sexual violence and destruction of property" by the military, and Saudi Arabia which, despite its dire human rights record, is the third-largest recipient of UK arms exports. Libya (subject to an EU arms embargo until last year) and Iraq also received first-time invitations.

But it's not just politicians who are culpable - we are all in this murderous business, for our environmentally extravagant lifestyles are directly responsible for politicians buying weapons to fight wars that guarantee a supply of oil. Also, many of us have pension funds and savings invested in major high-street banks, without knowing exactly where our money is being invested. To my shame, I confess my account is still on the high street. Not much good could emerge from the arms fair, but at least it has inspired me to get round to moving my accounts to the transparently ethical banks - Co-op and Triodos.

I've been putting it off - I'm comfortable with my bank. I put up with the paltry interest rates and don't create a fuss when I call and am connected with a pedantic official in a foreign call-centre who won't give me basic information about my account unless I answer three obscure questions. I'd also been put off by the Co-op's awful non-fattist television adverts in which a plump lady with a face like a round cheerful cheese explains that they will do all the hard graft of dealing with your old bank. "It's like getting someone to break up with your boyfriend for you," she chortles, conjuring up unlikely visions of lovelorn swains weeping at her feet. However there is much to like. Smile, the Co-op's internet arm, offers three-per-cent interest on a current account.

There will always be people happy to make money from other people's misery. Let's make sure our money stays away from their bloody hands.

PS: If I'm found shot dead with an orange in my mouth you'll know I've gone too far this time.

www.co-operativebank.co.uk (08457 212 212); www.triodos.com (0117-973 9339); www.caat.org.uk (campaign against the arms trade)

j.stephenson@independent.co.uk

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